It’s a Weird Wednesday! On select Wednesdays over the next few months I’ll be covering unusual and esoteric topics of possible interest to Suvudu.com readers. Today’s topic is UFOs.
The Truth is Out There…or is it? Since time out of mind humanity has been seen unusual things in the heavens: images of skyward gods, angels, prophets and stranger things recorded in stone, papyrus, paper or clay. Ezekiel had his flaming wheel, the Hindu gods their flaming chariots. Were these things the inventions of priests and shamans? Religious metaphors? Misinterpreted natural phenomena? Ancient aliens? Who really knows? The only thing is certain that claims of strange things in the sky have continued to this very day – and so has the debate about their origins.
In the late nineteenth century, sightings of mysterious “airships” were reported throughout the American southwest. The public was was as entertained as it was frightened, and speculations about Martian reconnaissance missions occasionally appeared in the papers of the time. One of the oddest airship-related incidents was the supposed 1897 crash of an alien craft in Aurora, Texas. A local paper reported that the ship was piloted by a small man who was buried “with Christian rites” in a local cemetery. It was probably a hoax, but there are still people today who believe that something out of this world crashed in that tiny Texas town.
Sightings continued with the birth of the modern age of aviation. Pilots in World War II reported seeing strange, dancing lights in the sky. Some even claimed they were pursued by the mysterious objects that they called “foo fighters”. These were dramatic enough, but the apex of WWII-era UFO sightings was the event known as “The Battle of Los Angeles”. The “Battle” began in the wee hours of February 25, 1942 with the supposed sighting of Japanese aircraft by members of the 37th Coast Artillery Brigade. The air raid sirens were triggered and over 1400 artillery rounds were shot into the night sky, but it was later determined that there had been no enemy aircraft in the area. Sadly, six civilians died in the raid: three from the artillery and another three from heart attacks caused by the stress from the bombardment. Theories abound as to what was really sighted that night, from actual Japanese aircraft lucky enough to escape the groundfire to alien spacecraft. Most people think that it was all just a case of jittery nerves: after all, the attack on Pearl Harbor had occurred only three months prior.
The modern “flying saucer” craze began in earnest in 1947 when private pilot Kenneth Arnold reported sighting nine disc-liked shapes flying across the face of Mount Ranier in Washington. The press ran with the story and soon similar reports were pouring in from all around the country. Authorities dismissed Arnold’s experience as a mirage, but he stuck to his story and became a celebrity of sorts on the nascent UFO circuit.
Just a few months after Arnold had his close encounter, the people of Roswell, New Mexico had one of their own – or maybe they didn’t. In a situation reminiscent of the Aurora incident of the previous century, a local paper reported the crash of an alien craft just outside of the small town, but little agreement exists about what actually happened. A government spokesperson initially disseminated a press release stating that a flying disc had crashed and been recovered, but the government’s story then changed its position, stating that it was not an disc, but instead the remains of an air balloon. Accusations of conspiracy began to circulate within a short while of the incident, and so did rumors of recovered alien bodies and mysterious government agents scaring people into silence. The Roswell event became a watershed moment for UFO buffs and conspiracy theorists, and the mythology that surrounds it grows bigger with every passing year.
In the almost 65 years since Roswell, there have been plenty of UFO sightings, but we’re still no closer to knowing what exactly is behind them all. More than likely, there are multiple explanations: misidentified aircraft, heavenly bodies or meteorological phenomena, tricks of light, hoaxes and more might all be behind some or all of the UFO reports. Then there’s another, more exciting possibility: What if some of these are real? Could alien craft be visiting Earth?
There have been thousands of books, magazines and television programs devoted to exploring the UFO phenomenon. It has become a bit of a cottage industry, and no matter what side of the debate you’re on there are plenty of experts out there more than happy to support you with their take on what is really happening up there. Of course, credibility can be a bit of a problem. For ever sober-minded Air Force retiree or scientist there’s at least half a dozen alien contactees, channelers and fringe-dwellers peddling their wares. It an be hard out there for the genuinely curious layperson looking for answers.
Investigative reporter Leslie Kean recently attempted to rectify this with her book UFOs: Generals, Pilots and Government Officials Go On the Record. Published in 2010 by Three Rivers Press, UFOs collects the testimonies of credible sources like former government investigators – people who would be in a position to know something about the UFO mystery. Intriguingly enough, while the US government remains as tight-lipped as usual about the flying saucers and little green men, other nations aren’t nearly as reticent to discuss such matters. Kean speaks to many of their representatives, including former members of former UFO taskforces. There’s even a pilot who describes “combat” with a UFO.
Kean’s book isn’t going to be enough to convince hardline skeptics – nothing less than a grounded UFO and living, breathing alien would be enough – the book will give the open-minded and undecided a lot of food for thought. Even those who are inclined to not believe in UFOs will probably wonder what it is about them that continues to hold the imaginations of men and women throughout the world.